Updated: Mar 23
I firstly came up with the idea for this post because of some worrying attitudes I have seen in people where wood is concerned. To some, wood is only a resource for burning and has no other value. Fallen or cut hardwood trees are cut up solely for the purpose of generating revenue as firewood. This in my opinion is absolutely criminal. Hardwood trees take decades to mature and once burned are gone forever. Conifers are much better suited as firewood as they grow very fast in this climate and are already largely grown for it here. There is currently a shortage of hardwood trees all over this country and it only seems to be getting worse.
Secondly, I wanted to mention how hard it is to source hardwood trees for my craft. They never seem to grow next to a road with easy access for a van but quite often in boggy fields in the middle of nowhere. I have often arrived too late to the site of a fallen tree which was cut into firewood logs. Too often I hear a phrase like, 'pity you didn't call last week, I cut up a big tree for firewood'.
I have had a very small percentage of customers who can't figure out why I charge €20 for a small item or €120 for a bowl and I get the 'Sure 'tis only wood' comment. The view here I think is that certain people have been brought up to believe that wood is almost worthless in value outside of heating a sitting room. Nothing could be further from the truth. It can take decades for a tree to grow and mature and then months or years to dry pieces before working on them. Add in the time it takes to create a beautiful wooden piece and you are looking at something that is almost priceless ( I wish ). Wood is very heavy & full of water and needs great care and skill to get from raw material to finished piece. I wish people would see the value like I do. I am afraid that trees will have to nearly die out before people will start doing something about it.
When man first stepped on this island 9,000 years ago it was covered in lush forests of Oak and Elm with Conifers growing on areas of poor soil. Ash came 500 and again 2,000 years later. The entire island of Ireland was once covered in woodland accounting for over 90% land coverage. Years of increased population and farming ate into this vast woodland without too much damage to the overall coverage.
Closer to the modern era the explosive rise in population, shipbuilding and the onset of the Industrial Revolution saw huge areas of this country deforested. This behaviour increased rapidly from the 16th Century onward until woodland accounted for just 1.5% of the island. Forestry preservation initiatives from the 1700s created a modest comeback from that low percentage and right up to today the effort is very small. Government initiatives are focused mainly on harvesting cash crops of fast growing conifers and very little hardwood planting is carried out. This is why you see acres of unsightly stumps around the country. Today forestry coverage stands around 10% and doesn't show signs of improving.
I believe the government should subsidize farmers ( and other large land owners) to plant hardwood trees in fields all over their properties. Hardwood trees are not profitable due to the time it takes to mature so would be considered a future investment on behalf of the Irish people and mankind in general. If every Farmer planted 10 - 20 hardwood trees per year it would be an incredible gesture and wouldn't cost a great deal. Since farming is another reason for deforestation in the past I think it would be fitting to put some trees back on the land. These trees would offer protection for animals and against storms and would put some beauty back into the landscape while benefiting future generations.
I recently learned of a new development in drone technology which can shoot seeds into the soil from above and is capable of planting 100,000 seeds a day in largely inaccessible areas. See it here This could be an extremely valuable tool for the Irish Government to invest in. With an estimated 15 billion trees cut down each year worldwide it's high time something serious is done to reverse years of mass deforestation.
Since I have worked with wood for over half my life I wanted to plant hardwood trees myself to preserve the future. Unfortunately I do not own any land where trees can be planted. Matt Jones, another Woodturner from Sligo mentioned an organisation called Hometree where he donated money to help plant new hardwood trees on the west coast. I thought it was a brilliant idea and I have since made my first donation for 2017 and plan to donate a small portion from each bowl sale going forward.
Going back to the title of the post, it might sound like an odd title but I wanted to point out that I see wood as rare & precious and should not be taken for granted. If a hardwood tree falls on your property, think about a woodturner like me who will cut useful sections out of the tree and make you something in return. You will still get firewood out of the tree but you may also get a bowl, ornament or other turned piece to display in your home. The woodturner will also get some wood to work with as a fee, everybody wins!
Plant a tree today if you have the space or alternatively support Hometree Future generations will thank you!
You can visit my shop and see how these trees end up here